Scare tactics

This week’s comments from Lord Butler in favour of privatisation, and the ‘coincidental’ publication of the details of a report by the New College Bursar that purports to demonstrate the feasibility of rejecting state funding and control, might appear to signal a departure in the debate on Higher Education funding. However to accept them as such would be to exaggerate their importance. They should be taken in the context of attempts by all interested parties to set the tone of discussions. Given the hostile reception the government’s proposals for topup fees are receiving, we are hearing alternative proposals from all sides. What is perhaps more worrying than Lord Butler’s stance, is Charles Clarke’s refusal to contemplate defeat for his bill and listen to some of the alternative schemes for reform which are being put forward. The joint OUSU/CUSO (the Oxbridge student unions) “Alternative White Paper” is intended to point out that other options do exist and that doors should not be closed unnecessarily on policy solutions. These calls for privatisation, follow similiar, if less elequent, comments from Professor Michael Sterling, the Chair of the Russell Group of top universities, claiming that privatisation would be “plan B” should topup fees fail to be implemented. Such statements add up to a disparate campaign by parties with vested interest in the Higher Education sector to scare the backbenchers currently set in opposition to top-up fees, and encourage them to pass the bill as the lesser of two evils. Yet both the Government and the universities’ proposals still fail to recognize the voice of student bodies which seek to retain a Higher Education system in which any student, irrespective of financial concerns may study at the university of their choice. While Lord Butler is keen to stress that many students would be willing to pay more for an Oxford education, there are some that are not. The Ivy League system undoubtedly releases universities from financial burden, but it precludes many students from the choice that we continue to enjoy. We should not allow these scare tactics to succeed.ARCHIVE: 1st Week MT2003